The role of medical treatment of patients who had resting nocturnal angina as well as exertional angina was investigate. The effects of atenolol 100 mg a day, nifedipine 20 mg three times a day, and isosorbide mononitrate 40 mg twice a day were investigated in a double blind, triple dummy randomised study. Nine patients with coronary artery disease, early positive exercise tests, and transient daytime and nocturnal ambulatory ST segment changes were initially assessed off all antianginal medication. They were then treated with each drug for three five day periods. Angina diaries were reviewed and maximal treadmill exercise tests and 48 hour ambulatory ST segment monitoring were performed at the end of each treatment period. Resting and exercise heart rate and blood pressure were significantly lower on atenolol than on either isosorbide mononitrate or nifedipine. The duration of exercise to 1 mm ST segment depression was significantly greater on atenolol than on isosorbide mononitrate. Only one patient had an improvement in exercise tolerance on nifedipine that was greater than the improvement on atenolol; this patient had single vessel disease. The total number and duration of episodes of ST segment change during ambulatory monitoring were significantly lower with atenolol than on either isosorbide mononitrate or nifedipine. Nocturnal ST segment changes were abolished in six patients on atenolol, in six patients on nifedipine, and in five patients on isosorbide mononitrate. When nocturnal ST segment changes occurred, their frequency was reduced with all three drugs. Pain was abolished in four patients on atenolol and pain relief was significantly better on atenolol than on isosorbide mononitrate. There was no significant difference in pain relief between isosorbide mononitrate and nifedipine. Thus beta receptor blockade with atenolol was the most effective means of reducing myocardial ischaemia both during exercise and at rest at night without causing deterioration in any patient. Nocturnal myocardial ischaemia in patients with severe coronary artery disease can be effectively treated with beta receptor antagonists and vasodilators.
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